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Vice and Gawker Play Dirty, But Reveal A Lot About Today’s Media

gawkers-latest-trendy-web-metric-branded-trafficYou’ve probably already seen the piece Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan wrote last Friday, “Working at Vice Media Is Not As Cool As It Seems,” a report riddled with accusations of dismal (really, just insulting) staff salaries and allegations of shady business practices at the new media company, based on dozens of anonymous interview sources claiming to be current or former Vice employees.

Nolan laid out points like this:

One intern two years ago was excited to receive a full time position—until the company offered him a salary of $20K. Employees who have worked there full time within the past two years say that salaries well under $30K are routine for “producers.”

And this:

Quite a few [employees] scoffed at Shane Smith’s assertions in an interview earlier this year that “we don’t do branded content, we do content sponsored by brands,” and that “No programming has ever been edited for a sponsor.”

Basically, there’s nothing positive in the article. And despite Vice Media’s best attempt at getting back their good PR in a crudely-titled blog post, they never actually refute any specific claims about how they handle sponsored editorial in the newsroom or employee pay standards in the piece — but rather talk about their benefits package:

All VICE full-time employees participate in a complete package of employee benefits: full health insurance (medical, dental, vision), life insurance, disability insurance, two weeks of paid vacation per year, ten paid holidays, five paid sick days, a maternity and paternity program (12 weeks of paid maternity leave, one week of paid paternity leave), a summer Fridays program, and a variety of company discounts and offers, including a commuter tax-free benefit, flexible health spending and dependent-care accounts, and a 401(k) program.

I mean, it’s great Vice offers holidays and ice cream Fridays, or whatever, but when you’re paying someone in Brooklyn in the $20K range, medical insurance is the bare minimum, and a “summer Fridays program” is plain laughable.

Of course, we want to be as fair as we can to Vice. They do good work over there, and they have good people doing that work. It’s clear that Gawker set out to attack Vice’s integrity and character as a media organization; there was no other goal or outcome possible. Nolan doesn’t, and has never, minced words in his reporting, but as Gawker’s longest-tenured writer, he has a reputation for telling the truth in a style that’s a little bit offensive but mostly right, or at least respectable.

viceNolan’s report on Vice’s salary habits does paint a larger picture about journalism. It says that as a whole, hard-working reporters, editors and designers aren’t valued, even at very profitable outlets with rich and famous leaders (Shane Smith) and a popular TV show and thousands of readers. So let’s just call it what it is: $20K is an absolute joke for someone living in New York, Dallas, San Francisco, or rural Kansas, for that matter — especially for someone with a college degree.

At the end of his piece, Nolan sums up his sources’ sentiments well:

All they want is decent pay and conditions in which to do the good work that attracted them to the job in the first place. 

Journalists don’t want to get rich. They want to be treated right. And no, the “marketplace is inundated with content so we can pay nothing or very little” argument doesn’t hold up, because it isn’t true. When we’re accustomed to huge media organizations making embarrassing reporting mistakes, we’ve got a problem. Which means reporters and writers who have been trained well in fact-gathering, discernment, writing and ethics are a commodity. Reporters who say otherwise are devaluing their own work and base of knowledge.

What’s your take on the Vice-Gawker battle?  

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